The Portland Skinhead War | Insurgence Records Messageboard –
Nov 16, 2004 at 3:12am
Post by marveloushagler on Nov 16, 2004 at 3:12am
From HERE TO STAY- HERE TO FIGHT #2, info-bulletin of RASH-NYC
THE PORTLAND SKINHEAD WAR
Militant anti-fascists in the United States who have the cable channel A&E (Arts and Entertainment) should be on the lookout for the Portland, Oregon episode of “City Confidential”. The show covers the November 13, 1988 murder of 27-year-old Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw by three white supremacist boneheads, and the resulting civil trial (brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center) against Tom Metzger. Metzger was, and continues to be, the head of the Fallbrook, CA based racist group “White Aryan Resistance” (W.A.R.).
Metzger and W.A.R. are significant to the skinhead scene not because they were responsible for importing the bonehead style to the U.S.A. (boneheads came over in the late ’70’s and early 80’s with punk rock), but rather because they were the first to organize nazi skinheads into some form of fighting network (in this case “W.A.R. Skins” and the “Aryan Youth Movement/ White Student Organization”).
Metzger sent his bonehead field organizer Dave Mazzella to Portland to help organize a drunken mob of about 30 boneheads called “East Side White Pride” (ESWP). Mazzella was famous for appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show, and because he was featured in Rolling Stone magazine’s “Skinhead Nation” article back in 1988. Metzger flooded Portland with far-Right propaganda, and attempted to mold the already violence-prone ESWP into fascist foot soldiers. A wave of violent attacks on people of color, gays, lesbians, leftists and anti-fascist skinheads resulted, culminating in the murder of Seraw by boneheads Ken “Death” Mieske, Kyle Brewster and Steven Strasser. The three were drunk, coming from a party when they attacked Seraw and caved in the side of his head with a baseball bat for no good reason.
All three boneheads were eventually convicted. Mieske got life in prison, while the other two got 20 years each for manslaughter.
However, the murder seriously tarnished the liberal image of Portland, and it became known nationwide (however undeservedly) as a town that was a haven for white supremacy (the ADL called Portland “the skinhead capital of the United States”). This had the inevitable effect of a migration of white power boneheads to Oregon. At the time (1988), I recall hearing that there were approximately 300 nazi skinheads in Portland and the surrounding suburbs. That number may not seem like a lot, but as all militant anti-fascists know, boneheads are capable of starting trouble well beyond their numbers.
Enter Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center/ Klanwatch. The Center brought a wrongful death civil suit against Tom Metzger on behalf of Seraw’s family. Dees argued that Metzger was civilly responsible for Seraw’s death because he had ordered Dave Mazzella to Portland to organize boneheads into fighting formations. The fact that Dave Mazzella flipped sides and testified against Metzger certainly helped Dees’ case. After two weeks of testimony the jury came back with a guilty verdict, awarding a $12.5 million dollar judgement against Metzger.
The “City Confidential” show is narrated by Paul Winfield who is most famous for playing a Starfleet captain in “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan”. The show is pretty inane pop culture (complete with bad jokes), but features some interesting interviews with ex-boneheads and anti-racist activists from Oregon. Plus, the period footage of late 80’s skinheads is essential (including some video clips of Portland SHARP at an anti-bigotry rally). This program is worthwhile even if all it does is remind our movement of its own history.
One thing the Portland skinhead war did generate is lots of media attention. Some of the more memorable material includes:
PBC COVERAGE OF THE METZGER TRIAL
During the trial, PBS did extensive day-to-day coverage hosted by uber-liberal Bill Moyers. Most of the coverage was footage from various witnesses testifying on the stand, which was then chopped up and analyzed by a team of high-powered attorneys. Mainly, these shows were worth watching for the cross-examinations of various West Coast boneheads. They were pretty dim bulbs. It was also pretty funny to watch Metzger try and defend himself in court in front of a black judge.
SKINHEAD STREET GANGS BOOK
An interesting book that came from this period in Portland’s skinhead history is “Skinhead Street Gangs” By Loren Christensen (Paladin Press 1994). This book is a classic, and belongs in the library of all anti-fascist skinheads.
Christensen was a cop involved with Portland’s anti-gang unit (the “Gang Enforcement Team”), so the book is offered as expert advice on “the skinhead problem” to police agencies in other states. It has the viewpoint you’d expect: all skinheads are bad and must be kept off the streets. For the most part, the book is sensationalistic, hilarious and probably will do a lot more to inspire skinheads of all stripes to break the law than to straighten up (I know I’m working hard on getting my nefarious acts listed in any revised editions that might come out!). Tales of skinheads beating up cops, trashing cop cars, rioting after drunken parties, pulling drive-bys, etc.
The main reason I recommend the book is that it covers anti-fascist skinheads (called “SHARPS” throughout) as being equal, if not more of a problem, than boneheads. This is thanks to the fact that the old Portland SHARP chapter (circa 1989-1993) were what you would call “proactive” and deserve a good deal of respect for their trailblazing anti-fascist militancy. It’s hard to imagine a book on skinhead gangs written today even mentioning anti-fascist skins, let alone equating us as a more violent threat than boneheads.
Finally, anti-fascist skinheads should read the book to understand what the police are thinking when they try and stop us from clearing our name. There is considerable discussion of tactics used by law enforcement to contain the skinhead scene, to disrupt skinhead crews from functioning, how to effectively interrogate skinheads, etc. We must be aware of the traps law enforcement has set for us in their desire to stop us in our war against fascism and the rich. Without a doubt, we will be printing choice excerpts from “Skinhead Street Gangs” in future issues of HERE TO STAY- HERE TO FIGHT.
THE LIBERAL ANTI-FASCIST POINT OF VIEW
Morris Dees, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center/ Klanwatch, wrote a book on the Seraw murder and the subsequent civil trial brought against Tom Metzger. Called “Hate On Trial” (Villard Books 1993), I picked it up used for a few bucks. It represents the liberal anti-fascist viewpoint on the entire situation. There’s some useful factual information in this book, but it should mostly be read by militant anti-fascists as a model of everything we SHOULDN’T do in our fight against the far-Right.
Mainly, the book is self-congratulatory, as if suing Tom Metzger actually stopped the white supremacist movement dead in its tracks (rather than transforming Metzger into a persecuted folk-hero). While I’m sure Morris Dees’ court victory did quite a lot to generate revenue for SPLC/ Klanwatch (you should read the ridiculous praise from liberals on the dust jacket of the book!), I think it’s ridiculous to believe that the Metzger lawsuit did anything but shift the balance of power to some new white supremacist group. Not that this matters much to the liberal anti-fascist industry.
Also, throughout the book, Dees repeatedly kisses the ass of state and federal law enforcement agents, as well as the court system as the only effective way to fight fascism (and you wonder why nazis have so much strength in prison!). It’s clear that while he may dislike fascists, Dees thinks the status quo in America is just fine. His most biting commentary in this book is reserved for SHARP skins and Anarchists, who he portrays as mentally-unstable obstacles to the real anti-fascist fight. This position shouldn’t surprise readers of Klanwatch’s “Intelligence Report” magazine, as they regularly portray anti-globalization protestors and anti-fascist skinheads as confused collaborators with the far-Right. To quote a famous axiom, the “enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend”.
AND FINALLY, ONE FOR OUR SIDE: THE ERIC BANKS SHOOTING
Perhaps the closing chapter to the Portland skinhead war came on January 1, 1993 when members of SHARP got into it with boneheads in the parking lot of a gas station, and Eric Banks (one time singer of pioneer US bonehead band BOUND FOR GLORY) caught a round from an SKS to the head.
This incident was probably the last I heard of SHARP-bonehead confrontations in Portland, and it managed to make the national media via Time Magazine (“Skinhead Against Skinhead” August 9, 1993 pg.42). PBS even did a seven-minute video piece on SHARP vs. the boneheads on some nationally televised profile of Portland.
While some may not see gunning down boneheads as an appropriate way to fight fascism or to celebrate the New Year, you won’t see me crying any tears for Eric Banks. Boneheads murdered Mulugeta Seraw, they murdered Guillem Agullo, Lin Newborn, Dan Shertsy and countless others. Eric Banks knew it was genocide that he advocated, and unfortunately for him one of his future victims didn’t go down so easy. Let’s hope that all boneheads meet a similar end.
Throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Portland represented the foremost battleground between militant anti-fascist skinheads and boneheads. As such, it included much of what we can expect if a more generalized struggle breaks out here in the US between far-Right boneheads and skinheads wishing to clear our name: the role of the State, the reaction of law-enforcement, the liberal anti-fascist response and the allegiance of our potential allies (the far-Left). Clearly, we should study the Portland example as the microcosm of what may be the shape of things to come.
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